Mechanical Turk »

  • Song for Enda: ‘A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no-one sittin’ there…’

    February 7, 2011 @ 7:07 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    Any excuse will do for a bit of Burt and Dusty around these parts, but the lyrics of ‘A House Is Not a Home’ do seem particularly apposite to the TV3 debate. Maybe Vincent could give us a few bars… ‘A room is still a room, even when there’s nothing there but gloom.’

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  • New Candidatewatch platform launches today

    February 4, 2011 @ 10:15 am | by Hugh Linehan

    It remains to be seen how much  ’social’ or ‘online’ or ‘new media’ or ‘digital channels’ or whatever you’re having yourself will actually influence the outcome of General Election 2011. But there’s no doubt that the parties and individual candidates are paying a lot more attention to the tools offered by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate directly with voters. In the case of the larger parties, this often seems driven as much by a desire to be seen as down with the kids as by any real understanding of the potential (and the pitfalls) of new media.

    In addition, a number of different online platforms are aiming to act as forums where voters can ask questions of candidates and track their answers over the course of the campaign. Some of these services appear to have been caught on the hop by the bringing forward of the election, and are struggling to get up and running in time to have an impact.

    Today sees the launch of Candidatewatch, perhaps the most ambitious of these services. Originally set up in Germany, it has already operated during elections there and in Austria, Luxembourg and Ireland (the European Parliament elections in 2009). According to its founder, Gregor Hackmack, the objective is not just to facilitate communication over the course of the campaign, but to operate an ongoing service.

    “We are planning to continue running the platform after the election,” says Hackmack. “This will enable voters to check whether the newly-elected TDs keep their campaign promises. Then, the questions of the electorate become yet more powerful.”

    In Germany, since 2005, over 100.000 questions have been submitted by voters to more than 15,000 candidates and elected representatives. More than 80 per cent of these questions received a response. In 2010 the site, which is run by the non-profit ParliamentWatch. had 2.5 million users.

    Check out Candidatewatch here and tell us what you think.

  • Caption Competition: Go Team Go!

    February 3, 2011 @ 2:24 pm | by Hugh Linehan

  • Is there a saboteur at work in Fine Gael?

    February 1, 2011 @ 9:46 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    I ask because it’s hard to think of any other explanation for the video below, from the party’s YouTube channel. If not, then I’d love to get some insight into the thought processes that culminated in this. er, tribute to the late John Barry’s James Bond scores… What were they thinking?
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    Perhaps the boys in blue should try to learn from this rather impressive video from fresh-faced Dublin South-East independent candidate Dylan Haskins, who (going by his website pics) appears to have recently arrived via time machine from the Leaving Cert class of 1981.
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  • Want to give your opinions on the election on

    January 28, 2011 @ 4:53 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    It looks increasingly probable that the general election will be officially called next Tuesday, February 1st. Until then, you can read our ongoing coverage of the pre-campaign news here.

    But with the start of the official campaign, we’ll be launching a full election microsite, where we’ll be trying out some new things – we hope to have more audiovisual content, more live coverage, more interactivity and more voices being heard.

    Part of our plans involve offering a platform on for anyone who wants to write a piece about any aspect of the election. Just send it to and make sure it meets these simple criteria:

    1) It’s 600 words or less

    2) You’re willing to give your real name, which we can verify.

    3) It doesn’t contain material which may be considered defamatory, which incites hatred or contains foul or abusive language, or is gratuitously offensive.

    If you’re a blogger and would like us to republish one of your posts on, we’d be happy to do so, attributing appropriately and linking back to your original content.

    We plan to have the microsite up and running on February 2nd.

  • 29 days and counting… #ge11 on

    January 25, 2011 @ 9:25 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    So here we go. What could be  one of the most transformative elections in the history of the State now seems certain (barring yet more pratfalls or misadventures) to take place on February 25th. You can follow The Irish Times’s election-related coverage here for the moment. When the campaign officially starts we’ll have more extensive coverage, analysis and debate right through until the last recount has taken place and the precise composition of the 31st Dail. If you have any suggestions/ideas about what we should be doing online, we’d be glad to hear them here. Or you can email us at or get us on Twitter at @itelection.

    I’ll be using this blog to keep an eye on media coverage, online and off, of the campaign, which in all but name has started already. And not too well for the Labour Party, to go by this contribution:

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  • While I was sleeping, someone started an Irish Times sports blog…

    October 28, 2010 @ 10:49 am | by Hugh Linehan

    Yes, within days – hours, almost – of Tim@24′s plaintive question: ‘why no sports blog?‘, our sports team have sprung into action with their new blog, Dead Rubber.  If you have a minute, please pop over and welcome them to the party.

  • An unhappy blog commenter writes…

    October 27, 2010 @ 1:27 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    I received the following correspondence last week by email. The writer has kindly consented to me publishing and responding to it here.

    Dear Online Editor,

    Your blogger “Jim Carroll” frequently claims to conduct his discussions with a view to listening to all sides. However this is not the case. In fact, he abuses the position of power you have given him both by trying to intimidate people who post unfavourable comments and – when it suits him – by censoring them completely.

    As you will see from what follows, unless opinions pat him on the back or allow him to further his own agenda he:

    a) Responds in a condescending, bullying manner
    b) Refuses to post them

    It is his blog and therefore he may feel entitled to do so. But it is also an Irish Times blog, and I would be very surprised if the newspaper condoned this kind of abuse of the position of power it has attained.

    Either way, I think it should be pointed out to you that he engages in this practise.

    Similarly, I think it should be pointed out to the other people commenting on the blog that their ‘stream of consciousness’ merely looks like a broad heralding of approval because it has been designed to be so.

    I posted the following to his article

    “If you’re going to apologise for all the mistakes in the article, I’d
    have thought that the biggest one was where it said that Cathy Davey
    won the Choice Music Prize. Naturally, I was surprised that you didn’t
    remember who did, seeing as you were the officiator – but maybe you
    had too much of Jape’s Champagne and got him confused with her
    (although Cathy didn’t have a moustache the last time I looked). Or
    maybe she actually won and you owe her 10 grand. Or is she next
    year’s top tip – and should Paddy Power close the book before it’s

    I was doubly surprised that you’d notice another error but not this
    glaring one – but it suddenly made sense. You don’t actually read the
    Irish Times do you? And funnily enough none of the commentators on
    your blog do either. Madam will not be pleased.

    Comment by Ralph P”

    His reply now reads

    “Ralph P – what apology for what mistakes? Just pointing out a clarification that needs to be made – and I sure as hell am not apologising for that.

    As for the photo caption error, you may not know this but journalists don’t write those captions so that error occured at the production stage. I’ve passed this onto the appropriate people to be corrected online.

    Comment by Jim Carroll”

    However, this is a very different reply to the one that the comment had initially been given by Mr.Carroll. In this, he made it clear that he had gone to the trouble of tracking down the location from which I had posted, which seems most unusual (unless there I was uploading child porn, in which case it would, of course, be understandable).

    In the light of this, I posted the following – or rather attempted to:

    “Jim. What’s going on? Earlier, you had posted the following reply to my comment:

    ‘Ralph P – that error happened in a photo caption, not in the piece, and has already been passed onto Madam.

    Good to know you students in UCD read the paper though. You are The Future, after all’

    Passed onto (sic) Madam? Onto her head perhaps?

    Actually, while grammatical errors are irritating, I was more concerned by your reference to UCD. Were you trying to intimidate me by letting me know that you had checked the IP address from which the comment had come? And why was the comment subsequently changed? Were you told to stop cyber-bullying students? Do you really think it’s big and clever to go around telling people that you know where they live/work/study?

    Either way, your new comment is condescending in the extreme. “You may not know this but journalists don’t write those captions.” So who writes them: automatons? Are editors or sub-editors or whatever they’re called not journalists too?

    Not meaning to be pedantic, your new answer also repeats the same grammatical error. For future reference, it’s: ‘on to’. The ‘on’ is connected to the ‘passed’, not to the ‘to’. Unless you’re talking about getting onto the bus…

    The fact is that the reference in the Irish Times to Cathy Davey winning the Choice Prize was incorrect. And if you were aware of it, why did you not clarify it earlier?

    Thus, your comment ignores the central point I was making: aren’t you embarrassed about not reading the newspaper that employs you? I know I would be.”

    In what is an obvious piece of censorship, this comment has not been posted to his blog, nor has he acknowledged that he edited or rather changed his earlier comment.

    I would like this clarified to the readers of his blog, either through the corrections & clarifications column in the Irish Times or through a posting on his blog by the online editor.

    Thank you.

    Ralph P


    Dear Ralph,

    Thanks for your mail. I’ll try to respond to the points you’ve raised.

    First, the points we agree on. As a fellow pedant, I deplore Jim’s misuse (twice) of “onto” and will have a stern word with him about it. In the same spirit, may I take the liberty of pointing out that, when you say Jim “engages in this practise”, you are making the common but no less regrettable mistake of confusing “practise” (the verb) with “practice” (the noun).

    As to the thrust of your complaint, I do not accept that Jim abuses any position of power he may have. Nor do I agree with your characterisation of his responses as condescending or bullying. And finally, I don’t agree with your description of his refusal to publish one of your comments as “censorship”.

    Let’s go back to the original conversation. You wrote:

    “If you’re going to apologise for all the mistakes in the article, I’d
    have thought that the biggest one was where it said that Cathy Davey
    won the Choice Music Prize. Naturally, I was surprised that you didn’t
    remember who did, seeing as you were the officiator – but maybe you
    had too much of Jape’s Champagne and got him confused with her
    (although Cathy didn’t have a moustache the last time I looked). Or
    maybe she actually won and you owe her 10 grand. Or is she next
    year’s top tip – and should Paddy Power close the book before it’s

    I was doubly surprised that you’d notice another error but not this
    glaring one – but it suddenly made sense. You don’t actually read the
    Irish Times do you? And funnily enough none of the commentators on
    your blog do either. Madam will not be pleased.”

    Is this a friendly, conversational comment? Does it add to the sum of human knowledge? I humbly submit it does not. It’s a bit abrasive, not particularly pleasant and casts aspersions on Jim’s ability to do his job(s). In the cut and thrust of online banter, it’s within the bounds of what’s generally seen as acceptable, which I suppose is why it was approved.

    Which is all fine. But it’s a little rich to complain then about Jim’s “condescending” reply. What did you expect? Is there a rule that states bloggers should accept and publish whatever’s flung at them, whatever the tone, and only respond with amiable politeness?

    As for identifying your location, this is a simple process available to anyone using a WordPress blogging platform, and Jim has used it effectively in the past to point out that certain anonymous posters may have particular agendas. I don’t think UCD has any particular stake in the Isn’t New Irish Music Great debate, so I don’t know why he did it in this case. But I honestly can’t see how it can be characterised as “cyber-bullying”?

    As a matter of interest, would you have made the same comments at the outset if you were not anonymous? I ask because I find myself increasingly of the view that the disadvantages of anonymity far outweigh the advantages when it comes to providing a forum for online debate conducted with some civility.

    The cut and thrust of online debate is often a lot edgier and more personalised than you’ll get in traditional print or broadcast media. However, the same standards apply online as do in our newspaper. But, as with the newspaper, there may be substantial differences of tone across different sections, depending on what is most appropriate to the subject matter or the platform.

    In the case of all our blogs, writers publish, edit and moderate their own blogs but are answerable ultimately to the Editor through me as online editor. They are permitted to edit their posts and comments, if they wish to do so on reflection. They also make the decision on whether or not to publish individual comments. To describe this as “censorship” seems to me to misunderstand the meaning of that word. If commenters feel they are being unfairly treated, they always have the option of contacting me directly, as you have done.

    I’m grateful for the opportunity to respond to the points you’ve raised, as they are important ones for us to consider. But in this context, I do believe the accusations (condescension, bullying, censorship) are simply not justified.

    Two last quick things: I don’t know (and nor is it any of my business) whether Jim regularly reads the print edition, but since he was at In the City in Manchester that week, it’s hardly surprising he was using the online version. And yes, as a former sub-editor, I can confirm that they are indeed journalists (but don’t get me started on the whole writer/sub-editor relationship thing).


  • How should we improve our commenting, debating and interactivity on

    October 25, 2010 @ 6:47 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    With the rapid-fire speed for which we in mainstream media are renowned, I’m just getting around to acknowledging our delight here in The Irish Times at winning the Grand Prix award for Best Website in Ireland at the Irish Web Awards on October 16th. It was a great night, and the award means a lot to everyone in here who works hard to make the site better all the time.

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    Speaking of which… I made a commitment when accepting the other award we won, for Best Online Publication, that we would be redoubling our efforts in the next 12 months to make certain key improvements in what we do and how we do it. I and my colleagues are very aware that there are a considerable number of things we could do much better. It’s not that we don’t care about enhanced interactivity, better use of metadata, increased liveblogging, etc. But, we do have some quite complicated technological and organisational projects to undertake before we can realise our potential to the full.

    One key objective for us in 2011 is to make a better platform for debate on key issues which are of concern to our user community. This objective will include (but isn’t restricted to) better integration with social media; faster publication speeds for users who are engaging in conversations; and a broader range of threads than is currently available through our Have Your Say comments facility.

     It would be ridiculous for us to embark on this project without asking you about it. So what would you like to see us do in this area? All ideas are welcome.

  • ‘So Bobby Kennedy said to me…”Go f***k yourself”.’

    October 5, 2010 @ 5:48 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    I had the pleasure of meeting George Lois, one of the all-time greats of the US ad and magazine worlds (his Esquire magazine covers from the 1960s now hang in the Museum of Modern Art in New York). Here’s an example of his inimitable conversational style.

    I met George at last weekend’s rather excellent Offset 2010 event in Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre, a celebration of creative design and designers which was both though-provoking and fun. I was on a panel with “the  man who’s going to save Conde Nast”, Scott Dadich, who launched that company’s Wired iPad app before going on to take responsibility for its overall digital design strategy. Also speaking were publisher Adrian Shaughnessy and art editor and critic Steven Heller.

    The subject under discussion was ‘The Future of Publishing’ and we managed to sort the whole thing out in 90 minutes… Well, not quite. But, as happens whenever I meet people involved in publishing and content creation these days, the striking thing is how we’re all facing exactly the same challenges, asking the same questions and (sometimes) fumbling towards the same tentative, open-ended answers in trying to figure out where the new digital world is bringing us.

    While Offset’s primary focus is on graphic design, by its nature it veers into related fields including newspaper and book publishing, the music industry, writing film-making, animation and gallery-based art. In Ireland at the moment there are various print and online publications  for consideration of such subjects, but too often they seem confined to their respective silos. And, inevitably, mainstream media only occasionally dips in and out of these subjects. It would be great to see a platform that allowed ongoing critical debate around culture in the broadest sense of the word emerge in this country. Anyone interested? Or should The Irish Times itself be doing more?

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